Bro, You Look Good in That Dress

Often Muslim women are the subject of wardrobe inquisitions. From the lack of hair visible to the abundance of strands countable, women’s bodies are constantly a front for cultural warfare and communal obsession. Regardless of a community or society’s religious/ethnic/ethical background, a woman’s body is nothing short but a litmus test of how well a society’s morals are progressing and also the front for the exertion of control by men and the male gaze. There is truth to the social importance of women in a country’s development, particularly mothers. But the particular obsession that I’m discussing goes beyond any parcel of social good and socio-economic development. Instead, it is linked to unwavering beliefs about the nature and role of women in society in relation to their male counterparts.

But, I’m slightly done with that for now. Instead, recently I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the Muslim male appearance. Now, I’m not going to deconstruct the beard or the kufi or rolled up pants. Deconstruction is really not a huge interest of mine when it comes to how people engage with piety and their relationship with God. Instead what I am interested in, however and perhaps contradictorily, is how young Muslim men in North America have come to adopt the Arab dress* – particularly the thobe – as a ‘standard Muslim male dress.’

Just as there are requirements for Muslim women’s dress, there are also similar requirements for the dress of Muslim men. Modesty and humility, after all, are not gendered concepts in Islam. This is, of course, in terms of the Qur’an and the Ahadith which stress the importance of modesty and humility for both men and women. Clothing is just one aspect and while the majority of Islamic scholars agree that the ‘hijab’ is obligatory for Muslim women, it is also important to note that it is also obligatory for Muslim men to conduct themselves righteously before and in the presence of women by ‘lowering their gaze.’ To be slightly tangential, the focus on physical piety as illustrated by clothing has been heavily on Muslim women, even though Muslim men are also to wear loose clothing and ensuring that certain parts of their bodies are covered at all times (navel to the knee, goes the famous decree!). While this ‘complaint’ is oft-repeated, it continues to be a significant problem in the Muslim community in North America, in particular, where our obsession with our women’s bodies and hair blind us from seeing God’s other commands and recommendations. Essentially, we become selective in what we choose to promote and what we choose to practice.

When many young men do practice ‘lowering their gaze’ they seem to – not always of course and I never mean to generalize – associate it more so with a sort of ‘fitna’ nature of a woman or even the ‘fitna’ of catching a glimpse of her. Especially if she is a fellow Muslim. Additionally, lowering your gaze does not necessarily mean never looking up at the person in front of you – it can encompass many mannerisms and epistemtic processes. In other words, don’t objectify women, respect them, don’t feel any sort of entitlement to them. My body is not your oyster.

To go back on track: men have requirements in their manner and their clothing, all of which relates to the taming of the Self, the Ego in face of the Power and Greatness of God. The general thinking goes that to submit your heart to God, you must clear it of all arrogance – including all of its various manifestations that may exist.

In the years that I started paying attention to the Muslim community and in the years that the younger Muslim communities have begun interacting with their religion in a way unprecedented by their parents’ generation, I’ve noticed a startling and concerning framing of Islam in North America: it is heavily Arabized. Fatemeh Fakhraie of MuslimahMediaWatch.org (i.e. my editor) wrote a piece in AltMuslim awhile back discussing the narrow and ethno-specific framing of Islam in North America:

Looking within our own community, many Muslims themselves (those of both Middle Eastern origin and non-Middle Easterners) see Arab culture as a proxy for Islamic authenticity. This may stem from the fact that the Holy Qur’an was revealed to the Prophet (peace be upon him)—who was an Arab—in Arabic. Naturally, there is value of learning classical Arabic and reading the Holy Qur’an in its original form. Knowing classical Arabic can also aid in reading the ahadith (a collection of the Prophet’s sayings, teachings, and traditions), and reading about Islamic law and history.

Baladas Ghosal of openDemocracy.com defines this phenomenon as “[a] process of homogenization and regimentation – the “Arabization” of Islam – puts greater emphasis on rituals and codes of conduct than on substance…” But although getting caught up in rules and regulations often can make one miss the bigger picture, it’s important to note that this Arabization is more of a cultural issue than a religious one.

Since the original Muslims were mostly Arab, everything associated with them – their culture, names, and family structures – has been associated with Islam. But this presents a problem since the vast majority of Muslims in our current world are not Arab. Passing off Arab culture as Islam in this regard is inaccurate, exclusionary, and disrespectful of other Muslims’ cultures.

Fakhraie continues to discuss the issue of converts, in particular, who often will cling to a strongly Arabized identity. Although South Asianized convert identity is incredibly prevalent as well. She also brings up issues of clothing, however my discussion is slightly different than her’s.

I don’t have a problem with associating certain names, languages or clothing as “Islamic” or “Muslim” despite knowing the problems that come with such categorizations. Nevertheless, I do have a problem when this categorization becomes exclusive to particular cultures thereby diminishing the vastness of the diversity of cultures that are either heavily or partially informed by Islam and either in historical or religious terms. My name is Sana and it is considered to be a Muslim name not only because of its presence in the Qur’an but also because of the geographic origin of the name. Muhammad, the most powerful name a Muslim could have as an identity marker, was not necessarily an “Islamic” name prior to the birth of the Prophet, but came to have the significance and religious weight that it does because of historical connotations. Kanwal, my mother’s name, is Punjabi and not technically “Islamic” but its history in Muslim lands and appropriation has rendered it otherwise. Hence, Christopher or Krishna or Shlomo are awkward names for many if not most Muslims because they are historically and religious entrenched in other traditions with particular meanings. Again, I don’t have issue with this unless people make this a point of piety warfare or some thing to that extent. So, no problem with these categorizations.

There is, however, something unsettling when one culture – a minority culture in the scheme of things – dominates not the cultural aspect of faith but also how we as both individuals and communities engage with it. Thobes have become synonymous with Muslim male clothing which is “a-cultural.” While some non-South Asians may wear shalwar kameez as a means of engaging with physical piety and modesty, there is something still ‘foreign’ about that fashion of clothing which has been near-well erased from the the adornment of the thobe in many North American Muslim communities – often in major urban centers and suburbs, but not always.

And forget a boubou, a male West African dress that I doubt will be as common and mainstream as the thobe has become across many communities.

The issue this then brings up is the extent to which even our engagement with Islam on a personal and communal level is informed by particular cultures. It is impossible to separate religion from culture and culture from religion, especially when the two are so wholly dependent on each other – particularly culture from religion more so than vice versa. But then, what about the hijab? The niqab? The abaya even? In recent years with my immersion into the Montreal Muslim community, particularly the Arab parts of it,

Now my brain hurts.

I’ve come to see how essentialist the approach to South Asian Islam has been. In other words, a woman who chooses to cover her head with a dupatta as well as her chest, with hair showing is considered immodest. And while many will say there are requirements of what the hijab itself should entail and what it covers – it makes me wonder whether strands of hair are really a test of modesty or is …modesty a test of modesty?

Why can’t the shalwar kameez be a normal so-called Muslim dress for men and women where anyone can adopt these clothes, if they so wish to, without it being seen as inherently a “cultural” dress? The boubou? The kanga? The kimono? The sarong? Turkish pants? Why is it that when I go check out Shukr clothing, their fashion looks like a weird mixture of Arab-Desi geometric cuts sprinkled with some “Western” variations? Why not the amazing other fashion styles, cuts and designs from other cultures? Why not working with the fashion ‘indigenous’ to our locale to make it modesty friendly?

The de-culturalizing of the thobe and abaya is not the main problem. Their dominance in fashion and physical piety engagement is, because it essentially creates and perpetuates a dangerous cultural hierarchy of what is “right” in Islam and, well, what is Islam.

*Also wanted to note and this is my own shortcoming that I missed to point out in this rushed blog post: when I said Arab, I should have clarified that this is a very Gulf/Levant inspired fashion. The Arab world is vast and diverse and while there are similarities in clothing, the “thobe” is not universal across the so-called Arab world. That’s really a subject for another blog post …that I will write in a year.

11 thoughts on “Bro, You Look Good in That Dress

  1. the questions you ask are simple but they try to dig deep. anything that digs deep doesn’t really get good responses because not too many humans like to think. following is easier than questioning.

    so a greater majority of immigrants, who are insecure turn to a certain direction that they think is “right”. “right” and “wrong” as defined by religion become very important when like is uncertain and when one cannot afford to be care free. and that happens when you enter a foreign land with no friends and discrimination. and in such a state, it’s very easy to force oneself and others to comply with the image of what is correct in people’s minds.

    i will write too much if i continue sana, but i hope i got across what i wanted to say.

    ~ cheers

  2. I’m probably missing something from you analysis, but:

    1. Whatever the Prophet (saw) and his wives wore is the Islamic pinnacle of dress and modesty.

    2. Whatever from 1 that is juridically derived as required establishes rules for clothing that one can wear without sin in public spaces. (In Islam’s vernacular, the public space is called ‘the place of God,’ which, as a side note, helps address your thoughts about why public modesty, from a legalistic perspective, is so important.)

    3. So long as clothing conforms to 2, all cultural expressions of clothing are acceptable. Again, however, these expressions are merely acceptable. The pinnacle of dress is established by the Blessed Prophet (saw)’s example, and some cultures have adopted this standard.

    4. From this framework, I address some of your questions.

    a. Strands of hair (dupta reference), if intentionally exposed, violate 1/2 (with very few and narrow legalistic exceptions). A dupta thus cannot be part of 3. If Islam is your moral standard, such dress is immodest. I don’t see objections to dupta as a function of culture. It seems like a matter of religion. Please note that scholars from the subcontinent object to duptas on religious grounds despite being part of the dupta culture.

    b. Western fashion is quite frequently in violation of 2 (and, almost by definition, not part of 1). Thus, it cannot be part of 3 without at least some (and often significant) adaptation. I think this helps contextualize Shukr’s mostly Arab/desi offerings that have minor Western influence. Also, North American Muslim fashion is pretty young. Our generation is probably the first to give it some thought.

    5. My questions for you.

    a. Why is it not that Arab dress is a facsimile of the pinnacle of dress–the Prophet (saw)’s example? So, instead of an ‘Arabification,’ what you’re seeing really is, in large part, an ‘Islamification.’ I’m not saying this is actually the case. But I don’t think you debunked this objection.

    b. (Admittedly a side-issue.) While I agree that women get the brunt of scrutiny when it comes to dress, why is this not merely a function of how at variance Western dress for women is with Islamic rules v. western dress for men? It seems natural to me that if Western women’s dress codes are more at odds with Islamic rules more scrutiny would fall on women.

  3. Levitation is for Sissies, what is your authority for these assertions? Your own? It’s not self-evident.

  4. Who said clothing had anything to do with ‘modesty’? To say that the hairs from the dupta are immodest isn’t necessarily the right word I think. On the other hand, if it were done like that intentionally, knowing that it needs to be covered for prayer, then their prayer may be invalidated according to some schools (if not all of them).

    And with respect to ‘modesty’, The Prophet PBUH said ‘No one will enter paradise who has the weight of a mustard seed of arrogance.’ And a companion (Ibn Umar I believe) asked ‘What if one of us likes to have beautiful clothing, and beautiful shoes, is this arrogance?’ And the answer was “No.” and that “Allah is beautiful and loves beauty.”

    In any case, most Arabs during the time of the Prophet PBUH did not wear thowbs, they were an izar/lungi/sarong. Something which is in decline. Especially not a thowb with a western collar, and western cuff links. And to arabs of the 7th century the turban was the pinnacle, not of modesty, but of beauty and respect. Note, the turban is also in decline. And that was recognized by other peoples who embraced Islam; if one were to observe the portraits of Ottoman Sultans, as pompous as they are, they all wore huge turbans. It was considered superior to a gold crown. (Other famous Muslims known for their beautiful clothes: Imams Malik and Abu Hanifa).

    So to say that “arab” dress is the pinnacle of islamic dress and modesty, is very inaccurate. Again, the thowb wasn’t even worn by them, and many of them at that time, hardly had clothes to cover themselves- and there are many light-hearted athar in that regard. They wore the izaar and a ridaa (shirt) which is not worn by any arabs today except Yemenis (possibly Oman?), and in Somalia, Bangladesh, Indonesia, and Malaysia. So if you want to reach that “pinnacle” you should be imitating these people.

  5. Levitation,

    Eat what you like, and wear what you like provided that it is free from two things : extravagance and vainglory. – The Prophet (saw)

    O children of Adam, we have provided you with garments to cover your bodies, as well as for luxury. But the best garment is the garment of righteousness. These are some of God’s signs, that they may take heed. (Qur’an 7:26)

    1. Why is it the pinnacle of modesty? Do not forget that the Prophet (saw) wore what was part of the culture of his people. At the same time – I also don’t think the Prophet (saw) was wearing white or black thobes, particularly not which we find in the khaleej today. Also, in descriptions of the Prophet (saw) we don’t actually know what he wore, only what he himself preferred. Also, in the Qur’an the references made to the khimar is also historically specific to the time (meaning the khimar was a culturally specific clothing to which reference is made). Any interpretations that have emerged have come from the human mind and thus are not Truth but interpretations of it – this is important to remember.

    2. There’s a difference between the importance of public piety and the obsession with it in only some regards – and there’s a problem when public piety overtakes righteousness of the heart and character. Also, while I accept authority of past fuqaha and ulema, I don’t think it’s as black and white as you make it in terms of “sin” or not. I don’t think to walk around without hijab or without a beard is sinful (some opinions see the beard as not sunnah but fardh).

    3. Agree with this but this has nothing to do with what I’m saying. I’m not talking about what is acceptable Islamic dress from a legalistic perspective. This is not my specialization. I’m talking about the deculturalization of the thobe and abaya in North American muslim communities over other forms of modest clothing from other so-called Muslim cultures.

    4. Your understanding of Western fashion is also very narrow. It’s not just all tank tops and booty shorts.

    5. In regards to your first question, please skip to number 9: http://sandala.org/blog/2010/12/12/how-do-we-respond-part-3/ and then check out The Cultural Imperative paper that is linked.

    Second question – women get the fashion brunt but so do men, from an Islamic perspective. Fitted shirts, jeans to make your bum look better, etc etc – Muslim women definitely get much more a nuisance when trying to find appropriate/modest clothing if they so choose to, but it’s not exclusive to us. And again, you’re taking on far too much of a narrow approach to ‘western’ fashion – which is extremely fusion and easily appropriates other cultures and styles.

    But again – this is beside the point of my rambled piece completely.

    Allahu ‘Alim.

  6. RR: My arguments are from fiqh, though, to be fair, I’m more knowledgeable about Hanafi stuphph. Thank you for this reminder!

    Abdu: Jazaks for the reminders about arrogance, &c. I didn’t intend for my post to be arrogant, if that was your implication. I apologize and will try to soften my tone in the future. I was just trying to engage the ideas.

    About your point on Arab dress, I actually agree that Arab dress is not a facsimile of the pinnacle of Islamic dress. I was only suggesting that this idea needed be dubunked in post. (5a. “…I’m not saying this is actually the case.”). However, I strongly disagree with your view on modesty. I feel confident that Islam views dress as part of modesty.

    Sana(nanananana): In light of Abdu’s response, please know that that my post wasn’t intended as an anonymous hit-job or anything. I was just trying to address your ideas, and I thought you’d know who I am by my handle. Anyway, please let me know, even privately, if offense was taken. I’m more than willing to change up how I go about life and to apologize. Onwards!

    I think that your introductory quotations are excellent to keep in mind but don’t replace or substantively create the rules for what we wear in Islam.

    1.

    a. Why is what the Prophet (saw) wore the pinnacle of modesty?

    I think it is undeniable that the Prophet (saw)’s example is the best and purest–an idea from all of Islamic scholarship. Second, from my own view, I think this makes sense: when we wear what he (saw) and his wives (ra) wore, we can be certain that we have minimized error as much as possible.

    b. I agree that thobes are not what the Prophet (saw) wore. I just think that this was an idea that needed to be debunked in your post.

    c. In general, I don’t think this ‘historically specific’ and ‘human mind’ stuff is helpful. The ‘historically specific’ argument in particular is problematic. It implies that Islam is limited to a time and place (despite Qur’anic proclamations to the contrary). What is established as a rule during the time of the Prophet (saw) is a rule in Islam. Otherwise our religion is as useless as modern Protestant Christianity.

    More importantly, the whole point of fiqh is to eliminate personal biases. I think it does a great job of that. Fiqh takes the primary sources, orders them by reliability (for example, you have Qur’an, sahih hadith, hassan hadith &c.) independent of specific applications, comes up with a legalistic framework independent of specific applications, and then applies both to specific scenarios. And while it’s true that fiqh is like an ‘ongoing discussion over the centuries,’ this is taken wildly out of context when you try to apply it to standards of dress, inheritance, &c. The rules of dress are settled precedent.

    Your specific example of ‘khimar’ yields very little interpretive variation in the madaahib. Niqaab is seen as fardh in 3 of the 4 Sunni schools. Only the ahnaaf see it as wajib (which is a small distinction; wajib just means you’re not a kaafir if you don’t accept it as fard–however, if you do something that isn’t wajib, it’s still sinful).

    However, in the West, a dispensation (for the ahnaaf, at least) has been given for women to just wear the hijab because of the danger they encounter when wearing niqaab.

    Maybe this is a ‘human mind’ thing. But frameworks of fiqh have come to remarkably similar conclusions about khimar over the centuries (and I admit some variation, but the extremes in scholarship cannot be used to characterize the mean). Again, scholarly consensus is well established, particularly for something like our dress code.

    2.

    a. I agree that character is important. But the heart cannot grow in absence of the rules, and the rules cannot be practiced properly in absence of good character. Shaykh Husain is an awesome reference for the interplay between these ideas (http://sacredlearning.org). Islam isn’t ‘just’ rules, but I don’t see how emphasizing rules necessarily takes away from also emphasizing character.

    b. I don’t understand how one can accept the authority of the scholars but think that the absence of hijab or beard in public is not sinful in most cases.

    I also don’t think I presented a black and white view, but let me flesh out my response some more. To add to my above discussion on sin in public spaces, unless there is reasonable fear for one’s safety, beard/hijab are required, and in their absence, there is sin. This is from the fiqh (though, I again admit my knowledge is strongest about the Hanafis). When you say “I think that..” is this grounded in fiqh? Or is there appeal to some other moral authority?

    3. It’s hard to discuss almost anything in an Islamic context without starting with fiqh (Islam is a way of life, &c.). For such discussions, I don’t know how one can examine culture without first separating it from the religion. In other words, what are the rules around which culture can permissibly coalesce? The answer to that really helps separate the ideas of ‘Arabification’ from ‘Islamification’ in your post, in my opinion. That’s why I wrote what I wrote.

    4. I admit to not knowing a bunch about fashion, and I agree that tank tops and whatever else aren’t all of Western fashion. But I don’t think it’s too narrow to say that Western cuts are generally too tight and too short (and in some cases, even too translucent) to be considered Islamically modest. Make those cuts looser and longer, and I think you end up with something that looks a bunch like Shukr’s clothing.

    By and large, I don’t think scholars care if your clothes have the words ‘DKNY’ or have a certain pattern of buttons or whatever, so long as they conform to the rules (I admit that I’ve never asked). By all means, wear dresses made of denim, strap on a snazzy pair of shoes, &c.

    Also, I should say that while I’ve never formally studied fashion, my first person observations of fashion in the U.S. stretch back at least 20 years of cognizance (I arbitrarily exclude my first 10 years of life). I think there’s some implication that I wasn’t born/raised in the West or something, and I just wanted to be clear that that’s not the case. This makes me think that you don’t know who writes to you here, which is a downer.

    5. (Side issue) I’m pretty sure that loose clothing has been the standard for men in the US for a long time (the hilarious ‘skinny jean’ fad is an admitted exception). Tight/short clothing has been the standard for women in the US for my whole life. While broad, I still think that’s a fair assessment.

    Just to reiterate: because Western women’s clothing varies so much more from the Islamic ideal, it get more scrutiny than men’s clothing. My argument isn’t that scrutiny is exclusive to women. I’m just wondering aloud if it’s the difference in scrutiny is heightened with women because of contrast between Islam and Western dress for women (and not just because they’re women).

  7. I’ve made several errors in what I wrote, but I don’t think it takes away from my intended meaning (for example ‘DKNY’ is a bunch of letters, not words, &c.). That last paragraph especially looks shoddy. Still, please let me know if anything I’ve written needs clarification.

  8. Levitation is for Sissies,

    I’m a Maliki, and have sat with scholars/students of knowledge, and niqab is not fard in our school. At the same time, there are also positions in the school of Shafi’i in which niqab is not concluded as a fard: Shaykh Ramadan Buti does not think it is an obligation, nor did Abu Hamid al-Ghazali (rhm) – in actual fact, in his fiqh, al-Ghazali viewed niqab as makruh. Some non-madhab scholars, like those of al-Azhar and Albanee-esque Salafis also view niqab to be not obligatory. While it is important to be traditional – follow the path of Classical Islam – we have to be modern too at the same time.

    Just like I am worried about the rise of Salafism (or rather, Wahhabism), Modernist-Islam and perennialism, I am also worried about the rise of “traditional Islam”. I consider myself “traditional” (I feel obliged to follow a madhab), however… too much traditionalism is like taking all your fiqh from the juristic medieval era, rather than understanding that somethings can change according to circumstances, for example perhaps things like niqab & travelling without a non-mahram. The way you are quoting “this is wajib, this is kufr, this is fardh” is very unsettling for me. This blogpost was on the sociology of Muslim youth, rather than the rulings of Islamic law. Plus, sitting on IslamicAwakening & SunniForum all day is not going to educate oneself about the deen; we need higher goals than showing off how we know what “wajib” and “fardh” is.

    One thing more: Islam is not against culture. It seeks to perfect existing cultures, not get rid of them. The Prophet (saws) even wore clothes made by the Romans. Let’s not become silly.

    Inna lillahi wa inna ilaihi rajiun.

  9. Sana,

    I believe in America or the UK, where the youth tend to adopt this Arabised, anti-cultural Islam, a Pakistani woman in a dupatta/chador with strands of hair showing is considered immodest.

    However, in Pakistan, the dupatta works very well. In fact, those women who wear abayas with a niqab, yet the shape of their bosom can still be “understood”, are victims of more perverted gazes. If you don’t have your chest area covered in Pakistan, then seriously… you’re done.

    Never in the history of “classical” or “traditional” Islam (the form of Islam which is promoted by Levitation) have men been worried about a few strands of hair. You literally imagine Islamic history to be so strict, but it is not. The jurists *were* strict, but even they did no look at a woman and say: “ASTAGHFIRUALLAH SISTER, YOU CAN SEE YOUR FRINGE”. This is a new, modern phenomenon; so is repeated use of the word “astaghfirullah”. In educated, yet religious, families in Pakistan, Egypt, Morocco, people to not tend to scold society or one another by saying “astaghfirullah”. (Just a sociological point I have notices.) Back to “classical Islam”, rather than a few uncovered hairs, to beautify oneself extravagantly for non-mahram men, even when covering everything but the face & hands, would have been considered “immodest”. A woman, at the end of the day, must not put herself out there in an object-like manner. She should not beg attention like we see many girls doing today. And that is modesty.

  10. MM,

    Jazaks for your response. I didn’t notice it until now, and I apologize for the delay.

    First, I must start with where I’m wrong. I reviewed my notes from a class on some of these topics. My notes said the same thing I wrote here. Then I went to original recordings of the lectures, and it turns out you’re right. I apologize and openly acknowledge it: the Maliki school has only one recognized, mainstream opinion (of 6 or 7) for which niqaab is fardh. It is the only school for which the majority say that niqaab is not fardh.

    Second, I admire your examples of individual opinions of fiqh because they provide texture and nuance. But I cannot shake that they are not, overall, of consequence. The Shafi’is, as a school, view niqaab as wajib; the same goes for the vast majority of the salaf (or whatever they’re called). We’ll see how Azhar reacts after decades of an oppressive regime that essentially outlawed beards. The bottom line remains: 3 out of the 4 schools view not wearing niqaab, with few exceptions, to be sinful. If you include the Salaf, it’s 4 out 5 that view not wearing as sinful. That is really uncontroversial, mine sister.

    Your request for a more nuanced view of classical Islam does not fall on deaf ears. But, in my reading of history and in my experience, the nuance is often distorted to build up barriers of excuses that are intractable for a generation or two. We’re born in the West, comfortable with something that is, on at least some fundamental level, at odds with Islam. I feel as though this cultural sensitivity, and the great depth of fiqh, and so forth is just cover for accepting those Western ideals.

    Still, let me bring this somewhat theoretical discussion into modern, practical relief. I can tell you about modern Hanafi traditional scholars because I hang out with some of them. These are guys who are born and raised in the US, who are familiar with its culture, who have university educations, &c. These guys do not offer opinions that differ from classical fiqh, and definitely not in light of your cited concerns. So, again, while I admire the nuance and texture, I just don’t think, for these issues, it has any place.

    Third, let me address some of the loose ends. I feel pretty strongly that a blogpost about the sociology of Muslims starts off on the wrong foot if it does not begin with the fiqh that establishes boundaries of social expression and interaction. But maybe that’s a matter of opinion or taste? So no big deal.

    Some other things you brought up: my source, as I indicated above, was directly from scholars with whom I sat. I am not part of sunniforums &c., though I hear that scholars do post on those sites incognito. As for the unsettling part about ‘kufr,’ that was only an attempt to provide a legal definition. I apologize for putting that out there without sufficient context. Just to be clear, I wasn’t trying to show off anything. Those definitions are available online, after all. Last, I agree that Islam is not against culture. Urf is acceptable insofar it does not contradict religion. But there is definitely a ‘best’ way of doing things, as defined by Islam. And there are definitely ‘required’ ways of doing things, as defined by Islam. My point is to not soak up a culture to the exclusion of ‘best’ and ‘required.’

    Last, please do not read any harshness in my words. I believe we’re on the same side of the issue, though looking at it with different points of emphasis. I’m very happy to hear of someone else who respects the madaahib and who is familiar with the varieties of opinions in fiqh. It’s awesome.

  11. Wow, such long winded discussions.

    I liked this article and would like to mention somethings.

    Firstly, covering the head with a dupatta/scarf is essentially the same. The problem lies when they use a thin dupatta to cover the hair, and bosom thereby remaining deficient in covering either properly. Showing a few strands of hair because your dupatta fell back a little is not immodesty but what I have seen is showing almost half the crown of the head.

    Secondly, certain western clothing in itself does not violate standards of modesty and even the young generation of muslims is beginning to learn that. However, what is common among today’s youth(muslim or not) is wearing torn and tattered tight fitting jeans and a small tight shirt/top. This is immodest clothing whether it be on a man or a woman.

    Thirdly, I agree with you that the society’s moral litmus is largely associated with the women. Greater onus should be placed upon the men.

    Lastly, I would like to point out that the thobe is not being deculturalized but rather muslims are choosing to accept thobe/salwar kameez as modest items of clothing simply because it covers them better.

    Now to comment on the comments:
    1. Regarding those who mentioned niqab not being fard according to certain schools, interestingly enough, one student of knowledge mentioned that all his teachers agreed that niqab is obligatory (according to all schools) upon a beautiful woman. Take it as you will.

    2. It was mentioned that dupatta works very well at covering the bosom. Considering that the dupattas have become finer and finer and the neckline of the salwar suits have become shamelessly lower, I am quite skeptical.

    3. Saying “ASTAGHFIRULLAH SISTER, COVER YOURSELF UP” etc. just amuses me. Why not say Audhobillah or Ittaqillah instead, since that would be more appropriate that astaghfirullah. Besides saying astaghfirullah in a loud, harsh, condescending tone is totally taking away from the point that the one saying is supposed to be seeking the forgiveness of Allah. Is that the way one seeks forgiveness *chuckle*?

    Now looking back at my own post, I see it has become quite long. May Allah grant me the ability to become succinct.

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